Donald Trump as the president-elect and the rise of the Republicans to the throne of one of the largest and most powerful countries in the world marks a change in the future of Egypt’s long-term, but inconsistent, military cooperation with the United States.
The annual military aid and economic support provided to Egypt came following the US-sponsored 1979 Camp David Accord between Egypt and Israel.
This cooperation saw some erratic stages during Barack Obama’s eight-year tenure, but, according to experts who spoke to Daily News Egypt, military aid and cooperation between Egypt and the US will hit new highs under Trump.
US military aid: a reward for signing the 1979 peace treaty
Over the course of the past three decades, successive US administrations have linked the future of military aid to Egypt with the peace treaty signed between Egypt and Israel amid pledges by successive US governments to always keep Israel as the “superior” in military cooperation.
Directly following the signing of the peace treaty, military aid and funding was provided to the two countries as a “reward”.
Trump to increase US military aid to Egypt
Military expert Nabil Tharwat told Daily News Egypt that Trump’s policies are “moderate” and he wishes to completely eliminate terrorism in the Middle East—unlike Hillary Clinton who follows the Obama administration, which led to the destruction of several countries in the region—there is no doubt that the annual economic and military aid to Egypt will increase over the next four years.
“Bilateral military relations between Egypt and the US have been affected by Obama’s policies, as Egypt has a different political perspective when it comes to militants and terrorism in Syria and Libya. However, Trump has declared that his administration will work hard to combat terrorism,” Tharwat clarified.
Meanwhile, Egypt recently announced that it seeks to diversify its weapons sources through importing arms from different countries, such as Russia and France so as to not be solely dependent on US arms, Tharwat explained.
“Trump has pledged to cooperate effectively with Russia to combat terrorism. This means that Egypt’s military cooperation with Russia will not negatively affect the annual US military aid under Trump, as all three countries have the same target: to eliminate terrorism,” Tharwat concluded.
US military aid used as a ‘pressure button’ on Egypt
From 1979 to 1982, US aid to Egypt recorded $2.1bn, comprising $1.3bn allocated for military funding and $815m for economic funding. This represented 57% of Egypt’s total income, according to state-run newspaper Al-Ahram. In that same period, Israel received $3bn from the US.
Successive US governments have used this aid as a “pressure button” to inflict its disapproval of certain decisions taken by the Egyptian government. This has included official statements issued by the US regarding potentially freezing or deducting this military aid in light of a dispute on certain issues or other political tensions. Of course, these threats usually lead to these contentious issues being quickly settled, but not always.
Suspension of aid
In 1997, the head of the foreign appropriations committee in the US congress removed the annual aid to Egypt as a result of disputes with the Mubarak regime over tensions with Libya and Gaddafi.
In 2004, the US congress received a suggestion to reallocate $570m from the military aid to economic funding instead as a result of Egypt’s refusal to effectively cooperate with US in counter-terrorism. The suggestion was rejected.
In a different case, the Egyptian and US administrations reached an agreement in 1999 for the economic funding to be reduced from $800m to $400m.
In 2009, this was further reduced to $250m, while military funding remained at $1.3bn.
Al-Sisi, Putin, and Trump all seek to eliminate IS
Islamic movements expert Ahmed Atta told Daily News Egypt: “There will be no suspension of the annual military aid under Trump, which is what happened under Obama following the dispersals of the Rabaa Al-Adaweya and Al-Nahda sit-ins. The Democratic party supports the spread of terrorism for the sake of dividing the Middle East countries, so Obama preferred to suspend military aid to Egypt in 2013 to give militants the chance to operate freely.”
On the contrary, US military aid to Egypt will increase as the Egyptian Armed Forces will cooperate effectively with the US under Trump, as he and President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi have a common goal in eradicating terrorism, according to Atta.
Moreover, the efforts exerted to confront terrorism will be on the rise, especially after Trump takes power as he has frequently pledged to cooperate with Russia to eliminate the existence of the Islamic State (IS) in the Middle East, Atta asserted.
Obama used his ‘pressure button’ in 2013
Following the removal of former Islamist president Mohamed Morsi from power in Egypt in 2013, the Obama administration decided to suspend the delivery of 12 new F-16 fighter jets to Egypt. Moreover, 20 days after Morsi was ousted, and in the wake of the deadly dispersal of Brotherhood sit-ins, Obama decided to cancel the “Bright Star manoeuvres” that were carried out between Egypt and the US, and other countries.
He also suspended all military and economic aid to Egypt temporarily, arguing that a full re-evaluation of the bilateral relations between Egypt and US will be conducted.
In 2015, the White House announced that Obama had informed Al-Sisi of his decision to lift the ban on arms imports to Egypt, including the F-16 fighter jets.
At that time, the US administration clarified that Obama would ask the US congress to resume the annual $1.3bn in military aid to Egypt. The US national security council then announced that Egypt will be provided with the 12 fighter jets and other weapons.